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San Beda and its lawyers

I was asked by Dean Ulan Sarmiento to be the commencement speaker of the College of Law of San Beda College Alabang yesterday.  This is what I told the graduates:

After having been so graciously invited by Dean Ulan to address you this afternoon, I suggested to the Great Chieftain that it would serve your purposes better to listen to a member of the Supreme Court or to a retired justice.  He sent me a text message that read: “I do not want the graduates to hear a discussion of ideas but to have something for their lives.”  By that riposte, Ulan left no doubt in me that he is truly an educator at heart.  It was, after all, a favorite saying of Medieval thinkers: Non scholae discimus sed vitae…We do not study for school but for life.

I have often raised this question, and I will take it up with you again this afternoon: What justification is there for a Catholic college or a Catholic university to offer law, to teach law, and to graduate future lawyers? 

It will be well to remind ourselves that San Beda College Alabang is not “incidentally” a Catholic school, nor Benedictine by mere happenstance.  Catholic and Benedictine—these are what constitute its very identity.  The monks of the venerable Order of St. Benedict decided on opening a school BECAUSE they were monks.  And so it is indeed that the school is the fruit of the Abbey.  Like the medieval monks of the same order who kept civilization alive in what were called “the Dark Ages” by laboring silently, late into the night, aided only by the most rudimentary of lighting then available, in the scriptoria and the libraries of their Abbeys, preserving for future generations, including ours, priceless manuscripts and handing down the wisdom of ages and the holiness of Catholicism’s greatest teachers and examples, today’s monks led by the Abbot-Chancellor of San Beda College Alabang, the Right Reverend Fr. Austin Cadiz, OSB and his predecessors, labor to keep the flame alive in our confusing, confounding but also interesting times!

And so you, the graduates of the College of Law of San Beda College Alabang are set apart as graduates of a Benedictine institution.  Every law school looks to flattering Bar Examination results in this sad Republic that is pathologically obsessed with the Bar.  Fortunately, the Church does not, and if the Church finds Bar scores important, it does so only because of the mission of the Church and the charism of the Benedictine Order.

I will comply with the Great Chieftain’s orders to me and shall endeavor to give you something to live by as law graduates of San Beda. 

In the fourth chapter of the Rule of Benedict, our Holy Father asks: What are the instruments of good works? I shall pick from his precepts in the hope that you will read the rest!

To love the Lord God with the whole heart, whole soul and the whole strength.

It is very common for lawyers, young and old, to quote with unction the venerable lines: “No master but the law, no guide but conscience, no aim but justice.”  But among the most salutary realizations you can arrive at as young law graduates is law is very often compromise, a balancing of clashing and colliding interests, a pragmatic solution to quotidian problems.  And that is why, no law, no constitution in fact, no matter how perfect its authors claim it to be, is beyond revision and amendment, immune from erasure and deletion.  The law approximates justice, but often falls short of its demands.  And the law student as much as the lawyer must treasure justice more than the law, for while not all law is divine, all justice is Divine.  One of the names of God is Justice!  In fact, your consciences must goad you into a critical examination of the way you use the law.  One who, by a written instrument, owes another a considerable sum of money cannot be proceeded against after the prescriptive period of ten years that the Civil Code provides.  But will your consciences—formed in the ways of the Venerable Bede, the sagely Anselm and the glorious roster of Benedictine holy men and women—allow you to use the law to enable a debtor to profit from the forbearance of his creditor?  Or should you later on get yourselves into the National Prosecution Service, will you use the misleading criterion of “probable cause” to allow you to file a criminal Information against someone even if you are fully aware that the evidence you have will never be sufficient to convict the accused—but can very well deprive him of so much through prolonged detention even before it has been determined that the evidence of guilt is strong?  God, our Holy Father Benedict will teach us, must be Master alone and a conscience formed by the light of the Gospel must be our guide!

Not to retain guile in one’s heart.

Not to make a false peace.

Not to abandon charity.

It is not difficult to comply with the law’s demands and still be brimming over with guile.  Drafting contracts is many times a contest between parties equally sly in the ways of draftsmanship, and the adversarial method of litigation —which, perhaps naively, was thought to be best suited to unveiling the truth so often becomes an exhibition of stylized forms of beguilement—whether this takes the form of perjured judicial affidavits, exploiting the carelessness of opposing counsel, dilatory motions and utterly uncalled for—but really guileful maneuvers such as a motion for judicial determination of probable cause! 

In the light of St. Benedict’s rule, a victory won by deceit and guile is no victory at all.  It is a defeat of the heart and the bankruptcy of one’s person.  What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? 

In all things, to be charitable.  We are told that Congress is working frantically on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, nth edition, while we, at the Consultative Committee to Study the 1987 Constitution, are feverishly working to produce a draft within the time given us.  Whether it is BBL or Federalism, it is peace we desire, that peace that seems to have eluded us for so long and has drawn us into wars of attrition.  No guile and stealth, scheming and posturing will bring us peace.  PAX.  When the Benedictine says that he also says Caritas.  Charity is the other name of peace, and when you, as lawyers and servants of the law can recognize in each client the countenance of the Lord Jesus who cries out for justice, when you can hear the voices of the dispossessed and the disempowered in every piece of paper that forms part of the records of a case, and when you can recognize the longing for justice when people seek your expertise—and your compassion—for the redress of grievances or the vindication of rights, then shall you truly be a person of charity, an instrument of peace.

I shall now end because I wrote not too long ago about the pathetic situation of a commencement speaker: he is greeted by accolades, but there is nothing that the graduates wish more than for him to stop speaking so that they can go on graduating.

I shall leave you then with a thought that is not new—something you have uttered all these years at San Beda, but one of the surest guides to a life of meaning and enduring worth.  Do all that you must do and can do well so that IN ALL THINGS, GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED.

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Topics: San Beda and its lawyers , Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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